She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Reviewed by Sophie

Parker-Chan’s debut is a stunning retelling of Chinese history focusing on themes of gender identity, free will, and desire. Set in 14th-century China, this historical fantasy tells of a girl who refuses to be nothing. Taking on the fate and identity of her brother, Zhu Chongba, she seeks greatness at any cost. Her journey from peasant to monk to war commander fuses her with characters as complex and strong-willed as she is, and provides readers with a compelling, heart-wrenching story.

My Picks

Bewilderment by Richard Powers

Reviewed by Alyssa

Richard Powers is becoming an all-time favorite of mine. After his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Overstory, I was hooked, and Bewilderment did not disappoint. His ability to connect the dramas of living a life to the largesse of the universe leaves you feeling both small and infinitely important to the cause of all. The thread between appreciation for life itself and individual action is gossamer-thin, but carries the weight of worlds within worlds, and Powers captivates as he shines light onto what’s possible in his novel.

My Picks

The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber & David Wengrow

Reviewed by Heidi

David Graeber – anthropologist, activist, and arguably one of the greatest anarchist intellectuals of our time – passed away unexpectedly in 2020. He leaves us with one last gift of a book: The Dawn of Everything. Written along with archaeologist David Wengrow, this books is a well-researched masterpiece that flips the conventional story of human history on its head. The popular theory goes that human cultures generally evolve in a linear fashion from generalist hunter-gatherers, to settled bands that practice agriculture; in time, they produce a surplus of food, which allows groups to specialize and acquire wealth and status; and later on down the line, cities spring up, followed by industry, empire, and the creation of the modern state. First advanced by Hobbes and Rousseau, championed today by authors such as Yuval Noah Harari, this theory is almost universally accepted.


Graeber and Wengrow counter this notion with a stunningly well-researched and wildly different perspective on the last 30,000 years of human history. they present a compelling body of evidence that refutes the idea that cultures evolve along a fixed and linear trajectory; and what’s more, they do so in a way that celebrates and affirms the autonomy, intelligence, and creativity of our species. Humans are not passive objects tossed around by environmental and material forces, they argue. We have – and have always had – the power to choose how to live our lives. And in many cases, our ancestors actively chose not to adopt technologies and lifestyles that would have led them along the linear path to hierarchy and statehood.

The Dawn of Everything is a beacon of light in dark and uncertain times, and an uplifting reminder that the trajectory of humanity is not set in stone.

A Book of Days by Patti Smith

Reviewed by Shari

On the cover of Patti Smith’s A Book of Days, is a picture of Patti in a black brimmed hat, holding her Polaroid camera in her left hand, her right hand poised at her lips in a gesture of contemplative curiosity. On the back cover, Cairo, her loyal cat, sits atop a copy of Federico Garcia Lorca, the picture dated June 5, 2018.

Patti Smith’s latest work was, interestingly, born out of her Instagram account, where in 2018 she started posting a picture a day. It holds a picture and a caption for every day of the year, revealing Smith’s solid practice of finding beauty within the mundane and imbuing both the objects and the people in her world with a special kind of magic, relegating all aspects of her life worthy of inspiration – revelation.  “Entries and images,” Patti says, “are keys to unlocking one’s own thoughts. Each is surrounded with the reverberation of other possibilities. Birthdays acknowledged are prompts for others, including your own. A Paris café is all cafes, just as a gravesite may echo others mourned and remembered.”

Naturally, I was curious about what Patti posted on my own birthday, July 20th: A picture of Rutger Hauer from Blade Runner with this caption – “Within the course of Blade Runner, Rutger Hauer infused his own humanity into Roy Batty’s android heart. Remembering the actor, imbued with Batty’s powers, sailing off the shoulder of Orion, seeing things we humans would not believe.”

Rainer Maria Rilke says that “if your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches.”

Patti, to my mind, and especially with this book out in the world, is poet enough.

My Picks

Babel by R.F. Kuang

Reviewed by David

Kuang’s book centers around the intersecting forces of colonialism, academia, and the magical properties of silver in 1830s England. the British Empire is on the rise because it hoards silver bars to harness their ability to bring forth the true nature of a concept as described by two words engraved in the bar itself in different languages.

Engraving a match-pair in a silver bar unlocks the inherent and inarticulable properties of the concept the two words are meant to describe – that which is invariably lost in translation. This is the magic of the silver, but it only happens when the words are properly matched, and this is work that only skilled interpreters can do. Babel’s cohort of protagonists, talented students that Oxford University conscripted from other countries around the world who study at the Royal Institute of Translation, are the keys to the silver bars working and thus the competitive advantage of the Empire.

The students are surrounded by the trappings of the elite, and as some of the few translators of the more “exotic” languages, they are prized and protected… and at the same time never fully accepted by the place that is now their home. Cracks in the façade begin to reveal themselves as they figure out that what undergirds the high ideals of Oxford University is not in fact the pursuit of knowledge or enlightenment.

It’s the colonial ambition of England.

This story propels the reader forward through time, across continents and ethical dilemmas, and into violence and tragedy. The way Kuang deploys language as a weapon is both allegorical and literal, carrying the characters through their own evolution and articulating the perspective of the colonized across cultures. But the characters themselves are what you care about in the end, as it should be with any good story.

My Picks

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Reviewed by Matthew

Finally, a new planet. But the ship that got us there took almost 200 years: so by now, the humans aboard are several generations removed from the ones who started the voyage. And in all that time, this ship has gained secrets & a story of its own.

This is not at all the novel it first seems like. Instead of making the reader starry-eyed with the wonders of space exploration, this is a cosmic-level story about home, and whether or not we as individuals, as communities, or as a species, should even try finding a home elsewhere.


My Picks

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

Reviewed by Claret

This story follows one girl as she navigates the complicated world of adolescence, insecurity, and attraction. At the beginning of the book our main character, Giovanna, is young and naïve, her world consisting of her parents and their apartment in northern Naples. When Giovanna overhears her father bitterly comparing her to his estranged sister, her self-esteem plummets and she is sent spiraling, desperate to meet the mysterious aunt her parents so clearly despise. When Giovanna finally does meet her aunt, her world is flipped on its head as she begins to see the hypocrisy of adults, the lies they tell, and the consequences those lies have.

I found this story to be wonderfully written and extremely emotionally intuitive. At the same time I found Giovanna to be a frustrating, moody, and self-centered narrator, providing a realistic representation of the teenage mind. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a story about family conflict, coming of age, and girlhood as a whole.

I Who Have Never Known Men By Jacqueline Harpman

Reviewed by Collee

This 1995 novel, first published in French, is a rather austere account of a woman’s life. From her girlhood locked in a prison cell with 39 women (with no knowledge of the outside world), to her eventual nomadic existence in a barren land above the subterranean holding cell where the story begins, answers do not abound here. I found myself not caring about explanations, though. This tale is about the journey- how we negotiate relationships in a community and how we live honestly. I loved the quietness of tone here and the mysteries that one is left to ponder on one’s own. Another speculative, dystopian novel that I’m glad didn’t get lost to the ages.

White Noise by Don Delillo

Reviewed by Nat

In anticipation of the film adaptation on Netflix, I decided to reread White Noise by Don DeLillo. The National Book Award-winning postmodern novel was just as engrossing the second time. It tells the story of college professor Jack Gladney as his suburban family life is upended by an environmental disaster known as the “airborne toxic event.” DeLillo’s witty satire targets consumerism, academia, and the fear of death in a manner that is both hilarious and unsettling. The book’s atypical structure and bizarre dialogue make it somewhat divisive, but I would still highly recommend it to any fans of Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, and George Saunders, or anyone who enjoys darkly humorous examinations of American culture.

My Picks

The Last To See Me by M Dressler

Reviewed by Alyssa

Dressler brings you into a world where ghost hunting is a relatively common and well-respected occupation. Towns and private citizens alike spend a great deal of money to ‘clean’ the spaces they inhabit of all unwanted spirits. It’s in this world that Emma Rose Finnis has been living as a ghost for over one hundred years, evading the pursuits of Cleaners, and haunting/living in a life that’s all her own and strangely borrowed. This is Emma Rose’s story of survival in a world seemingly determined to stamp her out, and the methods we teach ourselves to aid in that survival. Do you make yourself small or big, loud or quiet, adamant or passive, bold or invisible, in order to keep your place and hold your right to existence? And what if you choose wrong?

This is an exciting opening to a trilogy I can’t wait to make my way through.


My Picks

Author Melissa L. Sevigny will be discussing her exciting new book, Brave the Wild River,at the moab_library tomorrow evening at 7pm! The event is free to the public, and we’re excited to hear Sevigny discuss her research into the first women who ran the Colorado.

To get ya prepped, here’s a review by Sophie:

Brave the Wild River: The Untold Story of Two Women Who Mapped the Botany of the Grand Canyon
By Melissa Sevigny 

“In the name of science, river running history was made.  In 1938, Dr. Elzada Clover and graduate student Lois Jotter were the first women to boat the entire length of the Grand Canyon and the first botanists to document its flora. The epic 43-day trip was envisioned by Clover and guided by pioneering Colorado River boatman, Norm Nevills. The botanical survey of Clover and Jotter is the only one to document the riparian species of the Grand Canyon before the Glen Canyon Dam was built. Through journal entries, letters and newspaper articles Melissa Sevigny has woven a top notch story about river running, women in science and the Colorado River.“

#backofbeyond #backofbeyondbooks #authorreading #bravethewildriver #melissalsevigny #sciencewriting #naturalhistory #riverrunners #normnevills #womeninscience #moablibrary #grandcountypubliclibrary #booksigning #eatreadsleeplocal
Staff Pick this week is Shari’s! See what she has to say about this Indie Bestseller that was originally published in French in 2021 and has since been translated by Tina Kover for English-speaking readers.

The Postcard
By Anne Berest

“This is a beautifully crafted novel that takes readers on a journey through time and self-discovery. The story follows the Rabinovitch family: their flight from Russia following the revolution, their journey to Latvia, Palestine, and Paris. Interestingly, Berest has chosen the genre of fiction to interrogate her own family history, exploring themes of identity, belonging, and the significance of familial bonds. Berest adeptly examines how the past shapes the present and the ways in which our ancestors' experiences can influence our own lives. Anyone interested in either the City of Lights, history or calling up the past for a chance at reclaiming the present will love this novel as much as I did.”

#backofbeyond #backofbeyondbooks #thepostcard #anneberest #translatedfiction #translatedliterature #familyhistory #cityoflights #bobbstaffpick #eatreadsleeplocal